Erica Frenkel

“Retweeting and liking aren’t enough. Change happens when large groups of passionate, committed people make it happen.” Erica Frenkel isRead more →


Erica Frenkel

“Retweeting and liking aren’t enough. Change happens when large groups of passionate, committed people make it happen.”

Erica Frenkel is the Vice President, Business Strategy for Gradian Health Systems, a nonprofit social enterprise dedicated to promoting safe surgery and safe anaesthesia worldwide. She holds a MPA in Development Studies from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and lives in New York City.

What’s the impact of gender when it comes to surgical need?

Safe surgery – and reliable, consistent access to it – is an important issue (a human right!) for everyone, every day. Injury, congenital malformations, cancers and many other issues that require some form of surgical treatment impact men and women, adults and children.

However there are certain surgical conditions uniquely experienced by women and which, when performed unsafely (or when unavailable) uniquely affect their health and very survival: obstructed labor, post-partum hemorrhage, obstetric fistula, cervical and uterine cancers, to name just a few. International Women’s Day is a chance for us to call attention to the need to make those surgical interventions safe and available for all women everywhere.

Your work focuses on bringing an environment-appropriate piece of technology to low-resource settings.   What role can technology play in supporting access to safe surgery?

Certainly in my job, my answer tends to be that medical technologies (when functional and properly used) facilitate those interventions inside the operating theatre.

But today, on International Women’s Day, the technology I’m using technology to support access to safe surgery is this platform, and Twitter, and Facebook, and every platform I can find to call attention to this vitally important topic.

Retweeting and liking aren’t enough. Change happens when large groups of passionate, committed people make it happen. And these platforms can help individuals create a network – like this one – to catalyze action.

What should people know about unsafe and inaccessible surgery around the world?

For starters, some of the statistics. Approximately 1/3 of the world’s population cannot reliable access safe surgical care. Two million women across Africa alone are estimated to be living with (and often ostracized because of) obstetric fistula.  Common estimates about the number of women die in childbirth each year hover around 287,000

But those are just statistics.

One of the greatest challenges I have found in the course of this work, particularly around advocacy on this issue, is making the staggering statistics resonate. 287,000 is an unconscionable number of women needlessly dying. But it’s only a number. It does not illustrate who each of those 287,000 women were, or what dreams they had, or who they left behind.

So where do we take it from here?

Safe surgery does not occur in a vacuum. It relies on a sufficient numbers of trained health care providers (from community health workers to physician specialists); large-scale infrastructure investment beyond the hospital (such as roads and electrical grids and telecommunications capacity); efficient supply-chains with strong oversight (ensuring that disposables, medicines and other items are in regular supply); and much, much more.

The challenge seems daunting – and unfortunately that’s what keeps a lot of people from acting. But today, on International Women’s Day, let’s flip the narrative. With such a big challenge, there are roles for all of us to play.

So let’s do our homework. Let’s use this powerful technology called the Web to connect to all of the great work being done around the world to make sure that every woman – and man and child – has access to reliable, safe surgical care whenever they need it.